Breaking Glass

The Way to Translate

There are people who think the classics are a dated luxury.  Anyone who believes that should stay far away from the Christian Bible.

It’s been many years since I was able to read the New Testament in English.  Now, don’t think I’m showing off there.  My Greek is not wonderful, and I find a parallel text very useful indeed.  The problem is that, the more you read the text in the Greek original, the more you realize just how much you are missing in even the very best translations by the world’s greatest scholars.  You miss all sorts of nuances and cross-references, echoes and resonances.  As the (Latin) saying has it, Omnis traductor traditor: Every translator is a traitor.

An author might want to place special emphasis on a particular word or phrase, to bring out a theme or motif.  When we translate it, though, that pattern is often lost.  We don’t like to use the same word repeatedly, so we try to vary it slightly, especially if the English meanings of the word are slightly different depending on context.  And thus we lose the author’s intent.

As an example, I offer the Greek word hodos, “way,” which was a very early name for the Jesus movement, before the invention of Christianity.  Jesus proclaimed himself the Hodos, and the Truth, and the Life.  No later than the early...

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